'Every child has the right to a good education, not just a few'

27th November 2009 at 00:00

Mine was a small grammar school in a Dorset country town. It had one form of entry of up to 30 girls - it was of course a single-sex school, as all grammar schools were in the 1950s.

We followed the same curriculum in the first year. In the second, we could choose cookery or Latin. But it was not really our choice - it was a way of dividing us.

The teaching was good on the whole, but not inspiring. We went on outings related to the curriculum from time to time and an exchange with a French girl was arranged for me and some others during one summer holiday. Only a few of us stayed in the sixth form, where we studied general studies as well as A-levels or retook O-levels.

In my year, only six remained in the upper sixth, four of whom went to teacher training colleges and two of us to university - none of our group could be considered as "working class".

I studied French, maths and Latin at A-level and went to the boys' grammar school for most of my maths lessons. When I went on to Keele University and experienced its foundation year, which covered every possible subject from astronomy to zoology, I realised how narrow and limited my educational experience had been.

My sisters did not pass the 11-plus and as the secondary modern was regarded as being too large and with lots of problems, my parents chose to send them to a local Catholic school, where they went as weekly boarders. This split us as a family and the worst consequence was both sisters' complete loss of self-esteem and confidence in their ability. They never felt they were able to do as well as me because they had failed the 11-plus, even though one also went to university and became a teacher and the other has made a very successful career as a counsellor.

My five children have all been to a local comprehensive in London and the education they had was a huge improvement on mine. They had many more opportunites offered to them, a far broader curriculum and a great cultural mix of friends. They also learnt a lot more about life and ways of coping and they all went to university.

If grammar schools were to cease to be selective, and open their doors to those that live nearest, would they continue to be regarded as "good"?

For many parents who lobby to keep grammar schools, it is the issue of elitism that attracts them. But every young person has a right to a good education, not just the few, and the sooner the myths of grammar school and public school "excellence" are dispelled, the better.

This Government had a unique opportunity to end selection - and failed to take it. And it wonders why many problems still persist which result from dividing young people, rather than providing an education system which is truly inclusive.

Melian Mansfield, Former teacher and chair of the Campaign for State Education.

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